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For various names, see Black and White.

Black-and-white is a broad adjectival term used to describe a number of forms of visual technology. Most forms of visual technology start out in black and white, then slowly evolve into color as technology progresses.

The term monochrome is very similar, but may be preferred, to indicate that green-and-white, green-and-black, etc., are not excluded.

The term black-and-white is sometimes used in a derogatory sense, with full-color being regarded as more desirable.

"Black-and-white" as a description is also something of a misnomer, for in addition to black and white most of these media included varying shades of grey. Further, the original stock of many early photographic and film formats were in sepia, which gave a richer, more subtle shading than reproductions in plain black-and-white, although less so than color.

Some popular black-and-white media forms of the past include:

  • Movies and animated cartoons. While some color film processes (including hand coloring) were experimented with and in limited use from the earliest days of the motion picture, the switch from films almost always being in black-and-white to almost always being in color was a gradual process mostly taking place from the 1930s to the 1950s, with higher budget pictures being in color earlier.
  • Photography was black-and-white or shades of sepia. Color photography was originally rare and expensive, and early on often less true to life. Color photography became much more common in middle of the 20th century.
  • Television was originally broadcast in black-and-white. Some color broadcasts began in the 1950s, with color becoming common in western industrialized nations during the 1960s and 1970s.
  • Some newspapers were black-and-white until the late 1970s (and still remain largely colorless); the New York Times and Washington Post remained in black-and-white until the 1990s, some claiming USA Today was the major impetus for the change.
  • The Jet magazine was either all or mostly black-and-white until the end of the 20th century, when it became all-color.
  • Personal computers had largely black-and-white (or black and green, or amber) screens until the late 1980s

Today black-and-white media often has a "nostalgic," historic, or anachronistic feel to it. Some modern film directors will occasionally shoot movies in black-and-white because they believe it captures their vision better. For example, the 1998 Woody Allen film Celebrity was shot entirely in black-and-white. Other films, such as Pleasantville and The Wizard of Oz play with the concept of the black-and-white anachronism, using it to selectively portray scenes and characters who are either more outdated or dull than the characters and scenes shot in full-color.

Some television commercials have used the splash of color effect, in which the entire advertisement except for the scenes of the product, is shot in black and white. In some ads, this format is taken a step further in which persons who have not used the product appear that way, as if they were 'drab and lifeless,' and then, upon using the product, they then appear in colour as if their entire existence has changed.

In computing terminology black-and-white is often used to refer to an image consisting solely of black or white pixels; what would normally be called a black-and-white image is more accurately referred to in this context as grayscale or greyscale, ie an image containing shades of grey.

The phrase "to have it down in black-and-white" refers to the heightened authority of the written contract and by extension of the printed word in black ink upon the white page.

The phrase, "to see things in black-and-white" means to disregard the moral complexities of a controversy and seek simplistic polarized solutions.

In many U.S. cities, a Black-and-White used to be a police car, when they were painted with a distinctive black and white livery. Currently a Black-and-White is a large round sugar cookie (even 5 inches across) with a divided sugar and chocolate glaze.

Last updated: 05-07-2005 11:35:45
Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04